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Rare Gershwin opera is half of downtown double bill

By Mary Kunz Goldman

Buffalo Opera Unlimited has an unusual double bill planned for May 16 and 18 at the 710 Main Theatre downtown. That is the swanky little theater by Shea's Performing Arts Center.

The company is performing a little-known jazz opera by George Gershwin called "Blue Monday." I found this little clip of the one-act opera on YouTube -- a production from Italy, the video info suggests.

The other opera on Buffalo Opera Unlimited's bill is the premiere of "The Fall of Stag Lee" by Darryl Glenn Nettles.

Led by Tim Kennedy, Buffalo Opera Unlimited has done a fine job in the past with off-the-beaten-track American music. One enjoyable concert centered on the music of William Grant Still. It is great that they are forging forward with this new adventure.

Performances are 8 p.m. Fri., May 16 and 2:30 p.m. Sun., May 18. Tickets are $30 and more details are on the 710 Main theater's website.


Give for Greatness becomes part of ASI

Give for Greatness, the arts fundraising organization launched by Artvoice publisher Jamie Moses in the wake of Erie County's 2011 cultural funding crisis, will become part of the Arts Services Initiative.

The merger of the two organizations, funded by a consortium of local foundations known as the Fund for the Arts, will create a new development director position at ASI. It will primarily benefit small cultural organizations and expand G4G's mission to include a larger swath of Western New York.

As the funding crisis of 2011 recedes into memory, ASI board president and MusicalFare Theatre founder Randall Kramer said, "the need for G4G remains as prevalent as ever for small and new organizations, as well as groups in Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties where public sector [support] for the arts is not as strongas it is in Erie."

It's tough to overestimate the importance of a group dedicated to funding new and emerging cultural groups Western New York and Erie County, as the vast majority of public and private funding goes to long-established organizations. Gaining a toe-hold as a new group is remarkably difficult -- a problem this reimagined version of G4G aims to solve.

Since its founding, according to the G4G website, the organization has raised $150,000 for local arts organizations. It was headed for a time by former Studio Arena Theatre director Kathleen Gaffney, who left the organization several months ago.

--Colin Dabkowski

Emerging Buffalo opera singer to sing on 'From the Top'


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Teenage soprano Emily Helenbrook, pictured above singing with JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, is making an encore appearance on "From the Top," the national radio show about up-and-coming classical music talent.

Miss Helenbrook, who is from Alexander, is currently a sophomore at the Eastman School of Music. She is being featured as an alumna solo performer on "From the Top" on Wednesday, March 19 at 7 p.m., in Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall. ,

"From the Top" is organized and emcee'd by pianist Christopher O'Riley. Emily performed previously with the show in 2012 at the Chautauqua Institute. The upcoming show will also include 16-year-old cellist Annie Jacobs-Perkins of Pittsford; 10-year-old violinist Pierce Wang of Fremont, Calif.; 16-year-old pianist Carmen Knoll of Carlstadt, N.J. Flutists Sir James Galway and Lady Jeanne Galway will lead an ensemble of young musicians and also perform a surprise number with O'Riley.

The show will be broadcast later on WNED-FM, which airs "From the Top" at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

To attend the taping in Rochester, call the Eastman Theatre Box Office at (585) 454-2100. Tickets are $35-150 and student prices are $15.

Arts Services Initiative launches cultural awards

The Arts Services Initiative of Western New York, a cross-cultural advocacy organization headed by Tod A. Kniazuk, announced today that it is lanching an annual series of cultural awards.

The new awards program is similar to the yearly honors the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County handed out until its demise in 2010. ASI is accepting nominations on its website for lifetime achievement, organization of the year, artist of the year, rising star, cultural supporter of the year, cultural advocate of the year, volunteer of the year and DEC program of the year. The ceremony will be on June 25 in the Hotel @ Lafayette.

Read ASI's release on the new awards program here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Infringement Fest issues call for work

The 2014 Buffalo Infringment Festival, scheduled for July 24 to Aug. 3, is now accepting applications from local artists, musicians, filmmakers, poets and performers of all stripes. Some info from the release:

Infringement welcomes all musicians, visual artists, dancers, poets, actors, filmmakers, performance artists and street performers to be involved. There are no fees to enter and every application is accepted. Once you have started an application, you can go back to it at any time and add or change information. Registering early keeps you in touch with the monthly events and fundraisers and links you with an organizer in your genre of art. It also helps organizers plan ahead with volume, as the festival grows larger every year. To celebrate our 10th year we encourage everyone applying to step outside with their creative ideas and transform the streets of Buffalo into the ultimate free venue!

To submit your proposal, click here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Babeville to host forum on art, culture and 'placemaking' tonight

Jason Schupback, director of design for the National Endowment for the Arts, will lead a forum on the role of art and culture in the development of urban spaces tonight at 7 in Babeville's Asbury Hall

As projects such as Larkinville and Canalside spring up in American cities recovering from decades of economic stagnation, developers, architects and politicians are thinking much more about the role of culture in creating new urban landscapes and economies. The term for that trend is "placemaking," a highly lampoonable piece of jargon The Atlantic Cities included on its list of "Urbanist Buzzwords to Rethink in 2014."

Whatever you may think of the word itself, the trend is well worth exploring. Tonight's forum is sure to touch on many important issues central to the development of Buffalo in the next few years. Anyone interested in the rapid development of the city should check it out.

The forum is sponsored by Partners for a Livable Western New York, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and presented by Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. As seating is limited, those interested in attending should RSVP by calling Hallwalls at 854-1694.

--Colin Dabkowski

The real Billy Elliot is on stage in Toronto -- and he's not a dancer


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Sir Thomas Allen, a British opera baritone from a coal mining town, was the chief inspiration for the mega-hit "Billy Elliot," about a boy who transcends a similar background to become a great ballet dancer. He is singing the pivotal part of Don Alfonso in the Canadian Opera Company's new production of Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte."

There has already been one performance and there are nine left to go. The staging, by filmmaker Atom Egoyan, looks really weird. Why do they have to do this to Mozart, you know? Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera," the COC's other offering this time around, looks OK.

But what a pleasure to see, and hear, Sir Thomas Allen.

Here is a Toronto audio interview with him in which he talks about a number of things including "Cosi" and his childhood. "I was a shy, retiring lad, but I wanted to sing." He sounds like such a gracious man. It is poignant to hear him laughing ruefully how he tells how he was bullied -- including being thrown over a railroad embankment and getting his nose bloodied -- because he was studying singing and interested in the arts. You could not get away with that in his hometown, he says.

And: "I've never got on with pop music." It takes courage to say that!

Hmmm, he mentions how his father plays the piano and was especially influenced by Charlie Kunz. "If that name means anything these days," he laughs. As a Kunz myself I love hearing that name mentioned! On a more serious note though this is a very moving interview. Try to find time to hear it.

Besides being an opera star Sir Thomas Allen is a great singer of Lieder, an art form I love. Here he is singing Schubert's "Serenade." 


Hallelujahs for Renee Fleming and her Super Bowl gig


By Mary Kunz Goldman

Renee Fleming, above, is getting shouts of "Brava!" for singing the National Anthem at the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

The story on Yahoo! News is eliciting comments that can pretty much be translated to "Viva la Diva." 

"Thank God! How many horrible renditions have we had to endure over the years? Love her voice!"

"At least we won't have Pop Divas taking one syllable words and turning them into 50 syllable words spanning four octaves."

"Finally, they have someone with talent."

"A real singer singing our National Anthem. Refreshing."

"I think this is great! I hope she sings it as written. Opera singers have incredible voices!"

Best of all...

"Wait a minute, they're having someone who can actually sing perform the anthem? This is a breaking a long standing tradition!"

Renee Fleming, who is from Rochester, has sung here in Buffalo a number of times, including opening the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's season in 2002 and 2006. She is reportedly the first opera singer to have the honor of singing the anthem at the Super Bowl. As we rejoice in this turn of events, here she is singing Mozart's famous "Alleluia."

Hmmmm... a bit like "The Star-Spangled Banner," it builds to a dazzling high note at the end!

Could we maybe hear this at halftime?


BPO Recap: Musing on 'Mozart and Salieri'


By Mary Kunz Goldman

A concertgoer was nice enough to read my review of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's concert this past weekend, which featured Rimsky-Korsakov's opera "Mozart and Salieri." He writes, in part:

...You took no shots at an obviously lame piece. While I'm a big fan of Ms. Falletta, I am often mystified at her penchant for taking obscure pieces and presenting them to us (or maybe subjecting us to them.) There's a reason these pieces are obscure. I know musicians and directors get tired of playing the same Bachs and Beethovens over and over, and yes some of her selections can be interesting, but for every decent new piece she delivers to us there is something like that awful stinker Gliere piece, or this Rimsky-Korsakov....  Paraphrasing "The orchestra performed it wonderfully" - maybe so- but the piece itself was a piece of crap, especially that Gliere. Again, there is a reason these pieces are obscure.

I like this guy's passion for music and his civil discourse -- I mean, he didn't call me an idiot or anything because I wrote positively about a piece he did not like. I did, honestly, enjoy "Mozart and Salieri." I was looking forward to it and it did not disappoint me.

As I wrote back to our correspondent...

Continue reading "BPO Recap: Musing on 'Mozart and Salieri'" »

And the Met Opera audition winners are...

DanielleBy Mary Kunz Goldman

A good crowd turned out to see the Metropolitan Opera auditions held Saturday at Nichols School's Flickinger Performing Arts Center. The event had a terrific energy, with the audience focused on what was going on on stage, and coughing and sneezing kept to a minimum, a miracle in the middle of winter.

There were three winners.

They are Cameron McPhail, 29, a baritone from Toronto; Lauren Frey, 26 year old soprano from Pittsburgh; and Magali Simard-Galdes, a 22 year-old soprano from Rimouski, Quebec.

Encouragement awards, amounting to $500 each, went to Mokoto Winkler, 22, a baritone from Seaford; soprano Adanya Dunn, 23, of Toronto; soprano Erin Berger, 25, of Montreal; and soprano Danielle Beckvermit, 21, from Kingston. That is Danielle pictured up above. I caught her performance, and thought she was excellent.

Organizer Dianne Rubin described Cameron, the winner, as "a phenom."

A list of winners across the country appears on the Met's site. You may also watch Mark Mulville's video of Buffalo baritone James Wright in action. Though ultimately he was not chosen, Jim clearly impressed the judges with his aria from "Faust," because they called him back to sing an aria from Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte."

Anyway, lots of drama, and lots of talent.

Bravi to all!

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